I have always been considered an introvert and a reserved person by the people around me. What is more difficult to say is that I got used to that kind of opinion around me and I started to hate myself. Where I came from, being different means being excluded from the society and it really hurts. As a human being, we are not created to stay alone without interacting with other people so I have been trying to adapt into society and disregard all my other thoughts.
Unfortunately life has not been fair to me and I ended up being alone. I was left without support in a foreign country, fearing about my own life. Applying for asylum and trying to rebuild my life has not been easy for me. I found myself feeling more and more anxious and isolated, I couldn’t see hope around me, I couldn’t make any effort to go outside the house and I also had trouble sleeping at night.
It was my support worker at Migrant Help Centre, (where I was staying in Dover), who initially discussed with me about mental health and took me to a GP. The doctor said that I could have depression and gave me some tablets. Depression?! What does that mean? I spoke to the doctor and he started listening but by the time I said I was an asylum seeker his face expression changed and he did not take me seriously. I felt very bad. Although I was very unclear and confused, I took the tablets but they were useless, as I kept feeling the same, and sometimes even worse.
As part of my routine as an asylum seeker in the UK I moved to three different houses in different parts of London. As a result of this I changed GP as well. I have found this really hard because each time I had to see a new doctor I had to start from the beginning and there were no records of mine anywhere. Even today, after around two years, when I see a GP doctor and try to explain myself , the way I feel, it is so frustrating that they associate everything with the immigration status and give it precedence. “Hmm…you are an asylum seeker right? Then do not worry, this is all about your status. When the Home Office gives you the right to stay here you will be fine”. I wanted them to consider my mental health and wellbeing, not my status in UK. They are doctors not immigration officers.
I had completely lost hope on being well-treated, supported and understood, until I found Hibiscus Initiatives. There are places and people which you find casually but the entire life changes. The team at Hibiscus understood my needs and referred me to another wonderful organisation, Women Therapy Centre for counselling. Since then, I have been part of different activities at Hibiscus and attended IT course, Wellbeing workshops, Yoga classes, Coaching, and a lot more. Also I have received support when I needed to use the computers etc.
My psychotherapist does not judge. My psychotherapist recognise me as a whole person and I feel safe to talk with her about my trauma, she does not care about the status and based on my needs she referred me to a psychiatrist and now I have been diagnosed with PTSD and given the right treatment. I feel supported and much better mentally.
My experience with NHS mental health services has been so exhausting and traumatising because I have had to go through endless assessment. I felt like I was not being considered, that on the contrary I was being judged. All I can remember is that cold look in the doctor’s face and the phrase: “It is all related to your status, if you get it you will be fine”. I hope that this approach towards asylum seekers and the stereotypes surrounding this matter are challenged and stopped. At the end of the day, we are all human beings and we deserve to be treated with respect and our health taken seriously.
I now have to live with the diagnosis I have been given, and truthfully it is quite painful! Living with PTSD has affected all my daily activities and hopes for the future. I wish I could have had the right treatment from the beginning. Maybe things would have been different now. My journey from antidepressants to special treatment for PTSD, as well as my experience with mental health services in UK, has been distressing. But is so amazing to know that there are some great and professional support providers that cater for people in similar circumstance, Women Therapy Centre, and also organisations that change lives such as Hibiscus.
Now I am trying to recover myself and study. Even though is very hard, because of my lack of concentration, my dream is to start university and become a successful accountant.
Mona is 23 and originally from Albania. The picture is of artwork produced by women at Hibiscus. For more information about Hibiscus visit here.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this piece, you may like to visit our Get Help page for more information on organisations that provide support